Abbildungen der Seite

whom was confided the task of beating one of the best soldiers and hardest fighters of the century. Despite the enormous material odds in favor of Great Britain, the natural result of matching the Howes and Gages and Clintons against George Washington ensued, and the first lesson was taught by the evacuation of Boston. Washington did not linger over his victory. Even while the British fleet still hung about the harbor he began to send troops to New York to make ready for the next attack. He entered Boston in order to see that every precaution was taken against the spread of the smallpox, and then prepared to depart himself. Two ideas, during his first winter of conflict, had taken possession of his mind, and undoubtedly influenced profoundly his future course. One was the conviction that the struggle must be fought out to the bitter end, and must bring either subjugation or complete independence. He wrote in February: “With respect to myself, I have never entertained an idea of an accommodation, since I heard of the measures which were adopted in consequence of the Bunker's Hill fight;" and at an earlier date he said: “I hope my countrymen (of Virginia) will rise superior to any losses the whole navy of Great Britain can bring on them, and that the destruction of Norfolk and threatened devastation of other places will have no other effect than to unite the whole country in one indissoluble band against a nation which seems to be lost to every sense of virtue and those feelings which distinguish a civilized people from the most barbarous savages.” With such thoughts he sought to make Congress appreciate the probable long duration of the struggle, and he bent every energy to giving permanency to his army, and decisiveness to each campaign. The other idea which had grown in his mind during the weary siege was that the Tories were thoroughly dangerous and deserved scant mercy. In his second letter to Gage he refers to them, with the frankness which characterized him when he felt strongly, as “execrable parricides,” and he made ready to treat them with the utmost severity at New York and elsewhere. When Washington was aroused there was a stern and relentless side to his character, in keeping with the force and strength which were his chief qualities. His attitude on this point seems harsh now when the old Tories no longer look very dreadful. But they were dangerous then, and Washington, with his honest hatred of all that seemed to him to partake of meanness or treason, proposed to put them down and render them harmless, being well convinced, after his clear-sighted fashion, that war was not peace, and that mildness to domestic foes was sadly misplaced. His errand to New England was now done and well done. His victory was won, everything was settled at Boston; and so, having sent his army forward, he started for New York, to meet the harder trials that still awaited him.


AFTER leaving Boston, Washington proceeded through Rhode Island and Connecticut, pushing troops forward as he advanced, and reached New York on April 13th. There he found himself plunged at once into the same sea of difficulties with which he had been struggling at Boston, the only difference being that these were fresh and entirely untouched. The army was inadequate, and the town, which was the central point of the colonies, as well as the great river at its side, was wholly unprotected. The troops were in large measure raw and undrilled, the committee of safety was hesitating, the Tories were virulent and active, corresponding constantly with Tryon who was lurking in a British man-of-war, while from the north came tidings of retreat and disaster. All these harassing difficulties crowded upon the commander-in-chief as soon as he arrived. To appreciate him it is necessary to understand these conditions and realize their weight and consequence, albeit the details seem petty. When we comprehend the difficulties, then we can see plainly the greatness of the man who quietly and silently took them up and disposed of them. Some he scotched and some he killed, but he dealt with them all after a fashion sufficient to enable him to move steadily forward. In his presence the provincial committee suddenly stiffened and grew strong. All correspondence with Tryon was cut off, the Tories were repressed, and on Long Island steps were taken to root out “these abominable pests of society,” as the commander-in-chief called them in his plainspoken way. Then forts were built, soldiers energetically recruited and drilled, arrangements made for prisoners, and despite all the present cares anxious thought was given to the Canada campaign, and ideas and expeditions, orders, suggestions and encouragement were freely furnished to the dispirited generals and broken forces of the north. One matter, however, overshadowed all others. Nearly a year before, Washington had seen that there was no prospect or possibility of accommodation with Great Britain. It was plain to his mind that the struggle was final in its character and would be decisive. Separation from the mother country, therefore, ought to come at once, so that public opinion might be concentrated, and above all, permanency ought to be given to the army. These ideas he had been striving to impress upon Congress, for the most part less clear-sighted than he was as to facts, and as the months slipped by his letters had grown constantly more earnest and more vehement. Still Congress hesitated, and at

last Washington went himself to Philadelphia and held conferences with the principal men. What he • said is lost, but the tone of Congress certainly rose

after his visit. The aggressive leaders found their hands so much strengthened that little more than a month later they carried through a declaration of independence, which was solemnly and gratefully proclaimed to the army by the general, much relieved to have got through the necessary boatburning, and to have brought affairs, military and political, on to the hard ground of actual fact.

Soon after his return from Philadelphia, he received convincing proof that his views in regard to the Tories were extremely sound. A conspiracy devised by Tryon, which aimed apparently at the assassination of the commander-in-chief, and which had corrupted his life-guards for that purpose, was discovered and scattered before it had fairly hardened into definite form. The mayor of the city and various other persons were seized and thrown into prison, and one of the life-guards, Thomas Hickey by name, who was the principal tool in the plot, was hanged in the presence of a large concourse of people. Washington wrote a brief and business-like account of the affair to Congress, from which one would hardly suppose that his own life had been aimed at. It is a curious instance of his cool indifference to personal danger. The conspiracy had failed, that was sufficient for him, and he had other things besides himself to consider. “We expect a bloody summer in New York and Canada,” he wrote to his brother,

« ZurückWeiter »